Strategy, Innovation & Leadership

Becoming fully sustainable by learning from nature

March 16, 2016 | 1 min read

As a company, how do you become fully sustainable without making a negative impact? And how can nature provide inspiration for innovation? Geanne van Arkel, Head of Sustainable Development at Interface, the world's largest carpet manufacturer, told us how during the introductory program for new Master participants at TIAS.

Substantial progress has been made since Interface decided in 1994 that it wanted to be fully sustainable by 2020, according to Van Arkel. The company is already no longer dependent on fossil fuels for its products to the tune of 55 percent. "These are already recycled from bio-based materials. We make carpet tiles from discarded fishing nets and "backs" from natural resins. There are plenty of possibilities if you want to re-invent your company with a focus on sustainability."

Cross-sector innovation

In this respect it is not just about the production process (in Europe the company operates with a production process running entirely on 100% renewable energy). Interface also explicitly looks for collaboration. "Not only within the chain, but also outside: cross-sector innovation."

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Interface takes inspiration from the ideas of The Natural Step, an international non-profit organization for sustainable development, and biomimicry, whereby the best biological ideas from nature are imitated in order to solve human problems. The facts are never lost from view here. "Life cycle analysis, looking at where the actual impact lies, has proven to be an important tool for us. But always in combination with that ambition."

A radical change

With such a radical change of course, it is crucial to involve employees in the plans. Interface has let everyone find out for themselves what contribution he or she could make from their own expertise and passion. According to her, people become enthusiastic as soon as they have put on the "sustainability goggles". "Because it is of course much more cool to work for a company that has a higher goal and makes a positive contribution to what is going on on this planet."

International Program on the Management of Sustainability

Let yourself be inspired by the latest developments in sustainability policy at organizations during the International Program on the Management of Sustainability.

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